Over the past few years, Yale has continuously reaffirmed its mission to recruit high-achieving, low-income students. Often, these students are African-American, Hispanic or the first in their families to attend college — all groups which have traditionally been underrepresented on campuses nationwide.
Last spring, Yale made a commitment to the White House to increase college opportunity and socioeconomic diversity, including a promised increase in the number of QuestBridge finalists enrolling at Yale. And the diversity of Yale’s applicant pool has increased markedly in the past few years: Since 2013, there has been a 36 percent increase in African-American applicants and an 18 percent increase in students identifying as members of an ethnic minority.
This year alone, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan has endorsed “Turning the Tide,” a Harvard report focused in part on improving college access, and announced his participation in the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a group of over 80 colleges and universities dedicated to recruiting low-income students.
But as for recruiting students from diverse backgrounds, admissions officers need not look too far: In many ways, the New Haven public school district is demographically similar to many districts in which Yale focuses its outreach efforts. 42 percent of the 21,500 students enrolled in New Haven’s 10 public high schools are African-American and 41 percent are Hispanic, according to the school district’s website. And in New Haven, the median family income is $35,950, well below the overall median for the U.S. as a whole, which was $51,939 in 2013 — the last year for which the U.S. Census Bureau has released data.
With the University citing lofty goals of continuing to create exceptionally diverse applicant pools, how has Yale’s outreach fared in its own backyard?
Students, high-school administrators and representatives from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions interviewed for this article all said Yale has a particular responsibility to recruit high-achieving students from local public high schools.
“We take a close look at all of the strongest applicants from New Haven public schools,” Quinlan said. “We are committed to bringing in the best and brightest New Haven high-school students and giving them the opportunity to let them continue their education here in New Haven.”
In keeping with this commitment, Amin Gonzalez, who serves as Yale’s co-director of multicultural recruitment and manages outreach and application review for the New Haven area, said he makes an effort to visit all of the New Haven public high schools annually. Gonzalez said high-school students’ awareness of Yale and college admissions varies from school to school. Quinlan said the admissions office holds strong outreach efforts in New Haven, noting that in the past two years, Gonzalez has made presentations at every public high school except for one, due to scheduling challenges.
According to a 2015 report by the Yale Office of Institutional Research, just 34 students matriculated between 2013 and 2015 had residency in New Haven. Over this same time period, 32 graduates from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire matriculated, along with 38 from Phillips Academy Andover in Andover, Massachusetts.
As Yale’s national applicant pool has grown increasingly diverse over the past few years, so too have applications from within the New Haven area, according to Gonzalez, though he declined to provide specific data.
Quinlan added that the general applicant pool has seen a steady increase in representation from New Haven public schools, both in the number of applications and in the number of schools those applications come from.
Jake Colavolpe ’18, who attended The Sound School on South Water Street, said that given the University’s tax-exempt status, Yale has a responsibility to aid in the educational mobility of the residents from which it withholds those funds.
“When Yale benefits from a tax code that allows it to not pay taxes on property valued at approximately $2.5 billion dollars, New Haven misses out on critical revenue to improve social and physical infrastructure,” Colavolpe said.
Cari Strand, curriculum leader at High School in the Community on Water Street, said it is important for Yale to be as connected to New Haven as possible, which includes recruiting students from the area. As most Yale students live in the city for just four years, Strand said having local students would benefit their peers by offering a different perspective on the community.
And others simply favored recruiting local students out of fairness to Yale’s home city. Kiana Hernandez ’18, who went to Wilbur Cross High School in East Rock, said Yale should be doing at least the same level of outreach in New Haven as it does anywhere else.
“If Yale can send out recruiters looking for students in different areas around the country to apply, then I think they definitely do have a responsibility to look right here in New Haven,” she said.
AN IVORY TOWER
Still, as with any public-school district enrolling a significant number of first-generation students and students of color, challenges to enhancing access to higher education abound. Despite growing up in New Haven, students attending local public schools sometimes view Yale as a distant entity, accessible to only a small group of privileged elites.
“Only a few of us saw Yale as a school rather than an employer,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know if it’s that Yale thinks that because we grow up with it in the city we just kind of know what Yale is about, but I do know that everyone I speak to in this city sees Yale as a closed-off place.”
Cameron Schmitz ’19, who attended Wilbur Cross, also said that local public-school students often see Yale as inaccessible to them.
But Hernandez also noted an imbalance of information across racial lines, saying that for the most part, the white students at her high school had more information about the college process than did students of color. Hernandez, a Hispanic first-generation college student, said she had no idea that she had a chance at getting into Yale until her guidance counselor told her that she did, and she only found out about the University’s financial aid policies from a white classmate. She added that just two students of color applied to Yale from her school that year, though Wilbur Cross enrolls roughly 50 percent Hispanic students and 35 percent African-Americans and graduates around 400 students per year.
Colavolpe said there is definitely an issue of accessibility for New Haven public-school students, though this phenomenon is not limited to Yale and New Haven. Rather, he said, the relationship between the University and its host city is representative of a larger phenomenon of low-income students being systematically excluded from colleges and universities nationwide.
“Yale does not seem accessible to most students in New Haven, because it is not,” Colavolpe said.
However, Jahia Owens, a junior at High School in the Community, said she does not feel Yale is foreign to her because of all the opportunities she has had to interact with Yale students. Owens said she participates in the Urban Debate League and Project Youth Court, two programs run by volunteers from the University.
Judy Puglisi, principal of Metropolitan Business Academy on Water Street, said her top students do consider Yale an option, but noted that some students might be turned off by an apparent lack of diversity on campus.
“If you do a tour, and you don’t see anyone who looks like you, that could deter students [from applying],” Puglisi said.
There are many opportunities for New Haven high-school students to interact with Yale through both formal outreach and extracurricular activities run by Yale students, though the latter is a more sustained and effective channel for engagement, according to local students interviewed.
Quinlan cited Yale’s high-school auditing program and free Summer Session courses for local students, as well as the Yale Book Award — awarded to outstanding juniors in local high schools — as ways in which a young resident might engage with the University before applying.
For Alejandra Corona Ortega ’19, engagement with Yale began in high school when she joined her school’s debate team. Corona, then a student at The Sound School, was coached in debate by Yale students once or twice a week and participated in monthly tournaments on campus.
“The debate program made me want to come to Yale because I was surrounded by great people,” she said. Corona added that the older students she knew from debate also served as mentors once she enrolled at Yale, which eased her transition.
Strand said that most often, interactive experiences with Yale students help local high schoolers see Yale as a possible destination.
James Mosley, head of guidance at Metropolitan Business Academy on Water Street, said he was not aware of any specific outreach at the school by the Yale admissions office. And while Schmitz said a group of students and admissions officers visited Wilbur Cross in the spring of his junior year, other local students he knows did not experience the same level of outreach.
Still, Strand said that Yale sent admissions representatives to High School in the Community in the past, provided that the high school reached out to the administration beforehand. Colavolpe said he received a letter from the admissions office encouraging his application, and that an admissions officer came to The Sound School to speak about Yale and the application process. However, Colavolpe took care to differentiate these efforts from outreach by Yale students, which he said were long-term and more effective.
But these efforts were comparable to outreach at New Haven private schools. Charlie Proctor ’17, who attended the Hopkins School on Forest Road, said Yale representatives attended college fairs at Hopkins once or twice per year.
Hernandez further lamented efforts by the Admissions Office. She said that when she was in high school, it did not feel as though the Yale administration was making an effort to reach out to local students and encourage them to apply.
“Aside from an interview with a Yale grad, which is pretty much a part of the standard application process, I don’t remember Yale reaching out to me in particular, or anyone at my high school,” Hernandez said. “As far as I know, most students in New Haven that apply to Yale do it because it’s in our city and we very obviously know about it, not because we feel particularly sought after or wanted by the University.”